- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

Conservatives have a lengthy legislative laundry list they want President Bush to include in his State of the Union address, but they fear much of it will fall victim to a shortened, fiercely partisan election-year session.

Interviews with conservative policy-makers and business lobbyists, some of whom have been briefed by senior presidential advisers on the administration’s 2006 agenda, suggest that Mr. Bush’s speech to Congress on Tuesday night will address a number of initiatives on their wish lists — including making the tax cuts permanent, extending the USA Patriot Act, creating new, consumer-driven health care plans and boosting domestic energy production to combat rising oil prices.

But several conservative strategists caution that legislative sessions this year will be sharply truncated in a campaign year filled with congressional recesses and an October adjournment.

“The legislative calendar is shorter and, almost by definition in an election year, tempers will be shorter, too,” said Michael Franc, vice president for governmental affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

“The calendar says they will be in session for 120 days, but when you subtract Mondays and Fridays, which are travel days, that drops to 74, so it’s a very short playing field,” said Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief lobbyist. “At some point, you have to see what’s politically achievable.”

Several conservatives with close ties to the White House said that, after Mr. Bush’s failure to move his Social Security overhaul plan last year, he will not propose any major new reforms of that size this year.

“But I think the president is going to come out with some very ingenious policy initiatives, particularly in consumer-driven health care and energy independence,” said Cesar Conda, an economic-policy strategist and former domestic adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

A top priority for economic conservatives and the business sector is Mr. Bush’s tax cuts, which will begin to expire near the end of this decade, but they were pessimistic about the chances of moving a permanent tax-cut bill past the Senate, where Democrats remain fiercely opposed to it.

“Making the tax cuts permanent will be a donnybrook up on the Hill, in my opinion. That’s going to be a very tough thing to pull off,” Mr. Josten said.

Reducing the spiraling cost of energy was at the top of the list for John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers and a former governor of Michigan.

“The pressures are enormous. Energy costs and energy security need to be addressed,” Mr. Engler said Friday at a Free Congress Foundation policy forum, billed as “the Conservative State of the Union.”

Social conservatives also were lobbying the administration and Congress to pass a constitutional ban on same-sex “marriage,” to make it a crime to transport a minor across state lines to avoid one’s own state’s abortion parental-notification statute, to ban euthanasia and to enact tax relief for married working couples.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the number of illegal aliens entering the country is also a big issue with members of his group.

“This is a growing issue among conservatives at the grass roots and, if Congress does not address the tide of illegal immigration, lawmakers will face the consequences from the voters this fall,” he said.

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